With the recent media attention and eye-opening documentaries, more and more people are waking up to the opioid epidemic sweeping the western world. Driven by the prescription of pharmaceutical opioids in the US, this epidemic is spreading throughout developed countries, putting New Zealand at risk of getting further involved. Luckily, opioid abuse rates in New Zealand are lower than those in the US, yet they are still a problem for some. However, with the growing number of deaths and broken families, why isn’t the use of natural cannabis-based pain medication becoming readily available? With no addictive properties and the inability to overdose, it seems wrong that the likes of CBD oil and cannabis oil are not being utilised in mainstream pain treatment. With projections suggesting that approximately 50,000 Americans will die from opioid overdoses in 2018, people are in serious need of some nontoxic pain relief.
Firstly, what is an opioid? Opioids are painkiller designed to reduce severe, short term pain, in situations such as surgery or serious injury. Opioids work by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord which decrease the pain sensation, much like cannabinoids.
They are generally prescribed only when weaker pain medical fails to work and can be absolutely necessary in certain acute situations. The problems start to arise when these short-term episodes turn into managing chronic pain with opioids and this is where they do most of their damage.
Some of the typical opioids you may come across in New Zealand are, codeine, tramadol, morphine, oxycodone, methadone and fentanyl, which are all prescription only. The side effects of these drugs are quite shocking and include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, addiction, constipation and in rare cases when abused, death.
A safer alternative – Cannabis
The growing number of use cases for cannabis in the medical field is incredible. With more than two new studies on cannabis being published every single day, it is the most research substance in the world right now. One key use for cannabis and cannabis-derived extracts is pain management. With the understanding of the relationship between the human endocannabinoid system and pain signals, we now understand how cannabis can help treat pain by helping to block pain-causing nerve signals.
CBD and Pain Relief
Due to the strict regulation, we’re still facing around THC containing cannabis, we can focus on what is available, CBD oil. Cannabidiol (CBD) can be prescribed now in New Zealand as it does not have the intoxicating affect that THC has. As one of the main cannabinoids of the cannabis plant and one with the biggest application to pain relief and health, it is a great option for those looking to manage chronic pain or come off opioids. CBD oil works by suppressing inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting specific pain receptors. Not as effective as whole plant cannabis oil containing THC, CBD and all the other cannabinoids but it’s a start. There are currently 11 randomised controlled studies focusing on using cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic pain where seven have shown an analgesic effect that was significantly greater than the control. They have concluded that cannabinoids are a safe and effective means of chronic pain management. 
Some people may respond extremely well to cannabis-derived pain medication while some may not. For those who don’t respond to just cannabis, there is growing research to support a synergistic effect between opioids and cannabis for pain relief. When given in combination, the required dose for adequate pain relief can be reduced significantly, beyond just an additive effect. This can help people reduce doses of opioids and lessen the likely hood of negative side effects and addiction.